Understanding Extra Syllables vs Normal Syllable Count in Pali Poetry

Hello fellow practitioners,

I would like to delve into the topic of meter and syllable count in Pali poetry and seek your insights and expertise on this matter. I have come across a couple of Pali verses and noticed the presence of an extra syllable in one of the lines. I am curious to understand the reasons behind this and how it affects the overall structure and meaning of the poems.

Here are the verses in question:

from an4.67

  1. "Virūpakkhehi me mettaṁ,
    Mettaṁ erāpathehi me;
    Chabyāputtehi me mettaṁ,
    Mettaṁ kaṇhāgotamakehi ca."

from: sn10.8

  1. “Sataṁ hatthī sataṁ assā,
    Sataṁ assatarīrathā;
    Sataṁ kaññāsahassāni,
    Ekassa padavītihārassa,
    Kalaṁ nāgghanti soḷasiṁ.”

In the first verse, I noticed that the line “Mettaṁ kaṇhāgotamakehi ca” appears to have an extra syllable. I am curious about the purpose or effect of this additional syllable in the overall composition of the poem.

Similarly, in the second verse, the line “Ekassa padavītihārassa, Kalaṁ nāgghanti soḷasiṁ” seems to contain one extra syllable. I would appreciate your insights on how this impacts the meter and the intended meaning of the verse.

For now, I have come to the conclusion (for myself) that content is more important than form. Therefore, the additional syllables are justified in order to neither shorten nor distort the words.

Thank you in advance for sharing your knowledge and thoughts.

With metta,


Sometimes poets choose words that don’t quite fit the metre precisely. In recitation one can slide over the extra sounds to keep the rhythm.

Have a look at the Sanskrit term svarabhakti,
as well as the western (Greek) terms epenthesis and anaptyxis.

Thank you @stephen

I’ll come back after studying these terms. Just in case. I was going to google it. Or may be there is a recommended sanskrit text book or resource that you prefer?

I think this is the opposite of what’s happening in the O.P. no? Epenthesis is adding a syllable to fit the meter, but they’re talking about a word being chosen which doesn’t fit the meter.

(Though, I must admit that the first example in the OP sounds metrical to my ear… What meter were you expecting?)

Perhaps you are right, I had been thinking of ‘svarabhatki’ as what was required in order to fit the word in question into the metre (remove a syllable) upon recitation.

But it could be that the term ‘svarabhatki’ only refers to a word that has been written down in a contracted form. (Although keeping in mind these verses probably started in an oral tradition. )
I also know the term sampasārana is used to describe a ‘contraction’. But this seems to describe a Skt-P transformation.

So, I’m not really sure and a person more qualified in the ways of Pali/ Sanskrit metre (not hard to do) will hopefully chime in.

I see in Warder’s Pali Metre he seems to equate it with assimilation (p. 48) and gives
rājin — raññ
supina — soppa


Can the word apply to what is required of the reciter to preserve the metre? I’m not sure.

PS. “ Mettaṁ kaṇhāgotamakehi ca
does not fit into the siloka - is this what you were asking?


Perhaps a good place to start would be Ven. Anandajoti’s “An Outline of the Metres in the Pali Canon”, section 1: “Scansion and Related Matters” sub section 6: Sarabhatti (svarabhakti), broken, or partial vowels.


Thank you so much @stephen

I’ll come back after studying it.

1 Like

Good day Venerable @Khemarato.bhikkhu

Virūpakkhehi me mettaṁ,
Mettaṁ erāpathehi me;
Chabyāputtehi me mettaṁ,
Mettaṁ kaṇhāgotamakehi ca."

“>” - for the accented syllable

–>—>- 8 syl
–>—>- 8 syl
–>—>- 8 syl

The last line is out or rythm and length.

Sometimes extra syllables can be resolved by sarabhatti vowels, as Stephen says, but not here, it seems to me.

It is not unusual for a line to be out of meter. This is called “hypermetric”. You can search Venerable Anandajoti’s work for that term. Almost always (I think) hypermetric lines have more than expected syllables, not less, as we have here.

I don’t know why it was done, but probably it had some poetic effect as well, it wasn’t just because of the meaning.


Just to add, kr Norman has analysed the metres of most early verses, although I’m not sure if these are among them.

Hi @Sunyo

Perhaps, in the second example, this could be related to the culmination and emphasizing the significance of one step. So this extra syllable can be justified which doesn’t sound for me as needed but at least.

but in the first example, the logic of construction is clearly visible, and the name of the fourth type of snakes family simply won’t fit in size either in such as
_____ me mettaṁ
or in such a case
Mettaṁ _________ me.

So the first example illustrates (to me) that shifting the length is allowable, while shortening the name or modifying it is not.

Thank you venerable @sujato, @stephen and @Sunyo

I’ve attached documents that you’ve mentioned if someone will be interested in this topic as well.

An_Outline_of_the_Metres_in_the_Pai_Can - Anandajoti Bh.pdf (492.6 KB)
Buddhaniti_Sagaho - Anandajoti Bh.pdf (966.3 KB)


This is probably because “hyper” (Greek) means “more, above, over-”; while “hypo” would mean “less, below, under-”.